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him by Johnson - the most remarkable and original of his
" Lives of the Poets" will, at once, evidence. We are there told that, when a guest,, he could neither be persuaded to go to bed at night, or rise by day ;” that "he considered himself discharged, by the first quarrel, from all ties of honor and gratitude;" that “when he loved a man, he suppressed all his faults, and, when he had been offended by him, suppressed all his virtues ;” “always asked favors without the least submission or apparent consciousness of dependence ;” “purchased the lux
" ury of a night by the anguish of cold and hunger for a week ; “though he scarcely ever found a stranger whom he did not often leave a friend, he had not often a friend long, without obliging him to become a stranger;” and that “the reigning error of his life was that he mistook the love for the practice of virtue.”
We could easily multiply well authenticated instances of the foibles and the inconsiderateness, the casual triumphs and low expedients, that doomed him to vibrate " between beggary and extravagance." To indicate the relative value he attached to his inware resources and his outward obligations, a few anecdotes will suffice. While an inmate of Lord Tyrconnel's family, he sold several books which his host had presented him, with his lordship's arms stamped upon them; and, at the same time, betrayed the most fastidious and even “superstitious regard to the correction of his proof-sheets." While on the most intimate and friendly terms with Dennis, he wrote an epigram against him; and when his friends, their patience quite exhausted, contributed to secure him a permanent retreat in the country, he indulged in the most illusive dreams of rural felicity, and before he was half-way on the road to Wales, sent back to London for new supplies, which he soon expended among pleasant companions in Bristol, whose keen appreciation of his social qualities induced a versified comparison of their merits with those of his London protectors, by no means to the advantage of the latter, notwithstanding his recent obligations. The reverse of Dominie Sampson, he was very scornful at the idea of new habiliments being furnished him without the intervention of his own taste and authority. The mortification of illegitimacy was solaced by that of noble blood and the advantages he traced to “the lusty stealth of nature.” Scenes of profligacy, social ostracism, and a criminal trial, utterly failed in undermining a "steady confidence in his own capacity;” while he only regarded poverty as an evil from the contempt it is apt to engender; and he always thought himself justified in resenting neglect “ without attempting to force himself into regard.” Such a combination of traits, developed under extraordinary vicissitudes, completely illustrates the spirit of literary adventure, and the perversity of unregulated talent.
Yet this dark biographical picture, gloomy as one of Spagno•letto's martyrdoms, is not without mellow tints, nor its hard outlines unrelieved by touches of humanity. Upon his first discovery of a mother's name and existence, revealed to him by several documents found among the effects of his deceased nurse, the heart of Savage awakened to all the latent tenderness inspired by a new-born affection. It was his habit, long after the determined repulse of his unnatural parent had quenched the hope of recognition, to walk to and fro before her house, in the twilight, amply compensated if, through his tears, he could obtain but a glimpse of her robe as she passed near the window, or see the gleam of a candle in her chamber. At the period of his greatest want and highest mental activity, he composed while perambulating a verdant square, or retired mall, and then entered a shop, asked for a scrap of paper, and noted down his conceptions. In this man
, ner he is said to have written an entire tragedy; and certainly few instances of resolute authorship in the grasp of poverty can equal its touching fortitude.
His speech to the court, when arraigned for sentence after being convicted of homicide, is said to have been manly and eloquent, and certainly won for him great sympathy and respect. There must have been something in his character that inspired esteem, as well as in his fortunes to kindle compassion, from the interest so frequently excited and patiently manifested in his behalf by individuals widely separated in position and opinions. In some instances, too, the independence of his nature exhibited itself in a noble manner. The spirited letter which he addressed to a friend from the prison at Bristol, where he was incarcerated for debt, and so drearily terminated his eventful career, is a fine example of self-respect and elevation of sentiment. Hunt justly remarks, in his notice of the once celebrated Mrs. Oldfield, that her annuity to Savage gave posterity a liking for her; and Dr. Johnson assures us that the subject of his remarkable memoir, when banished from London, parted from him with tears in his eyes.
Indeed, the phases of character and the actual experiences of Savage, if analyzed and dramatically unfolded by a thoroughly sympathetic delineator, would afford a most fruitful theme. Imagine it handled by. Dickens, in his best vein: we should have night-wanderings as forlorn as those of little Nell and her grandfather, a trial scene more effective than that of Barnaby Rudge, jollities eclipsing those of Dick Swiveller, and reveries more grandly pathetic than the death-bed musings of Paul Dombey. For accessories his acknowledged relation to the nobility and his intimate association with the men of talent of the day would furnish ample scope; for so notorious was his story at the time, that Macaulay, in his “ History of England,” says that Earl Rivers is remembered chiefly on account of his illegitimate son; and the Countess of Macclesfield, brazen as was her temper, was obliged to fly from Bath to escape the observation of fashionable crowds induced by the satirical poem of Savage, called “ The Bastard.”
Prompted by that love of excitement which becomes the ruling impulse of the improvident and forlorn, Savage went forth one night from his obscure lodgings in search of profitable meditation, a boon companion, or a lucky adventure. There was in his elongated and rough face a sad expression that indicated habitual melancholy; not the resigned air of meek endurance, nor the gravity of stern fortitude, but that dark, brooding pensiveness which accompanies undisciplined passions and a desolate exist
There was, however, a redeeming dignity in his measured gait, and an unsteady accent in his voice as he soliloquized, that would have “ challenged pity” in a sensitive observer.
He entered a tavern an accustomed haunt, where conviviality had often beguiled him of "the thing he was.” The sight of one or two familiar faces, and the anticipation of a jolly evening, changed, at once, the mood of the homeless wit. That coarse exterior suddenly wore a milder aspect ; that solemn air gave way
to abandon ; and, all at once, he looked like a man ready to “fit the time lightly,” and “rouse the night-owl with a catch.” It was thoughtfulness eclipsed by good fellowship - Hamlet transformed into Sir Toby Belch. The carousal brought on the hour of feverish reäction, and the party at length sallied out to breathe the fresh air, and vent their superfluous merriment. Attracted by a light that gleamed from another house of entertainment, they entered, and unceremoniously disturbed a group already in possession. High words arose, swords were unsheathed, and when the morning dawned, Savage found himself a prisoner awaiting trial for murder. At this crisis of his fate, with the ban of the law impending, amid the solitude of captivity, how must the events of his life have passed in gloomy succession before his mind, and what desperate emotion must the retrospect have engendered !
We can scarcely imagine a more contradictory and pathetic story invented by fiction. The illegitimate offspring of a countess and an earl, brought up by a hireling, taken from St. Albans grammar-school in boyhood to be apprenticed to a shoemaker ; cut off by an infamous falsehood from the inheritance assigned him by his father ; accidentally discovering his birth only to become the object of relentless maternal persecution ; with the loss of his nurse, cast adrift upon the world and forced into authorship to escape starvation, and now only with the prospect of an ignominious death incurred in a tavern brawl; what incentives his memory could furnish to remorse and despair! His whole experience was anomalous. Of noble origin, yet the frequent associate of felons and paupers; with a mother for his most bitter enemy, and the slayer of one who never offended him; long accustomed to luxury, yet finding his best comfort in a jail; conscious of superior abilities, yet habituated to degrading expedients; his written life touching the hearts of thousands, while his actual condition annoyed more often than it interested; the guest of a wealthy lord, the confidant of men of genius, the intimate of Wilkes and Steele, and the cynosure of many select circles in London and Bristol, he sometimes famished for want of nourishment, and “ slept on bulks in summer and in glass-houses in the winter." From the king he received a pardon, after being con
demned to the gallows, and from a fashionable actress a pension ; the queen's volunteer-laureate, he died in a prison-cell, and was buried at the expense of the jailer. The records of human vicissitude have few more painful episodes; the plots of few tragedies boast more pathetic material; and the legacies of genius, to those who explore them to analyze character and trace the influence of experience upon mental development, rarely offer the adventurous and melancholy interest that is associated with the name of Richard Savage. He is the type of reckless talent, the ideal of a literary vagabond, the synonym for an unfortunate wit. In his history the adventures of hack-writers reach their acme; and his consciousness embraced the vital elements of dramatic experience, the internal light of fancy and reflection, and the external shade of appalling fact.